Sadly we just didn’t have the airmiles to get us to Sparta for the triumphant ‘return home’ of Spartan Race last weekend. Luckily, all around wonder woman Faye Caley did! She’s been kind enough to share her thoughts on the real life Sparta and the positive feelings gained from staring at ants mid race. (Yes, really).
I had the honour of taking part in the first Spartan race weekend in Sparta, Greece. I’m going to apologise in advance, as most of you know I've been in love with Spartan for five years now so I'm guaranteed to make a big deal out of this and have next to nothing bad to report.
Package deals were on offer for meet & greet/ travel/ hotel & race entry, it was a no brainer to get one and to not have to worry about a thing all weekend. On arrival to Athens airport, the atmosphere was incredible; I was surrounded by Spartans from all over the world (30 countries to be exact). I immediately felt at home with complete strangers, all with the same passion. This made the long bus journey to Sparta much more bearable after an already long day travelling.
After check in, registration and dinner, race day was soon upon me. My dream was soon to be a reality! Bursting with excitement, how could I sleep or even eat breakfast in the morning? I'm sure you can all relate to this. I was staying at the Sparta Inn, as with the other hotels in the package deal, the race was right on the doorstep, meaning bag drop wasn't even necessary. The hotel provided breakfast as early as you wanted it, in fact I couldn't praise the hotel more for being so accommodating for my entire visit! The whole town was geared up for our descent; every little restaurant and store was so welcoming.
There are few races I've attended where I've looked at other competitors around me and felt star struck, but this day was one of those. Lining up in the elite wave with some of the best in the world that have inspired me along my racing journey is a feeling I can't quite put into words, better than when Katy Perry looked me in the eyes in real life, if that puts it into perspective for you!
We had a speech from the Mayor of Sparta in Greek (which was briefly translated) and then we were escorted over the grounds of ancient Sparta as a way of showing respect. Then we were off, a flying downhill sprint with some classic Spartan walls and tall hurdles followed by a huge cargo net and then a few water crossings, breaking up all the racers evenly. In fact, for the duration of the entire race there wasn't a single bottleneck at any point which I found incredible given the number of racers. There were even points in the race where I wondered if God had come back and I'd been left behind!
The terrain was so mixed; a little mud, soft red dirt, very rocky parts and some incredible trail up the mountains, weaving through prickly bushes and sharp grass. (There were no nettles to trample down…) [Ahem. –Ed]
The views were breathtaking, looking directly out over Sparta and they were wonderfully distracting from the blistering heat and tough elevation. There are always points in a race where you really know that you're in another world, far from your usual Sunday stroll, that point for me was running past a heard of mountain goats with the sweetest old man watching over them, I felt like I'd been transported into an old fashioned movie.
There were two spear throws, the first was mid chain-carry, (Side note: how badly do they dig into your shoulders? This obstacle needs to come to the UK please). It was different to the usual, as it was a Spartan shield that you only had to hit (rather than bury the spear), alas, the shield was small and it was windy… That's my excuse anyway, so at my first set of 30 burpees 7th & 8th lady were now hot on my tail.
The positives at this point, believe it or not, were the cute little ants I noticed when I was chest to floor, and the marshals counting out everyone's burpees (this is the most encouraging thing to happen because you know you're running a fair race and they really are supportive in helping you get it done). The second spear throw was towards the end of the event in calf deep water, where again I had to take burpees (I know, call yourself a Spartan?) I wasn't complaining though, as I found it very refreshing.
I would say, having run the Beast, the running to obstacle ratio was perfect, and for every long climb there was a speedy decent. If you got lost, seriously, you only had yourself to blame! There wasn't one point where I couldn't see a white bit of Spartan tape waving at me- which is pretty amazing because I'm well known for getting lost!
Obstacle wise, apart from those that I've already mentioned and including some I'd not seen before, all the classics were there: bucket carry, tyre drag, log carry, sandbag carry, brick carry, brick stack, rope climb, z-walls, balance walls, Olympus, slack line, inverted wall, block pull, cargo nets, stairway to Sparta, rope climb and so on. The only noted missing obstacle was the new 'twister,' which I was disappointed about.
Exhaustion set in for me at mile 12/13, in a UK Beast you'd nearly be finished! Little did I know there was another brutal 5 miles to go! At this point I had slipped to 8th lady, not even disappointed as I couldn't have given anymore, my legs didn't even want to jog, let alone run.
I found that dehydration from the heat, gets you into just the same state as with hypothermia: dizzy, confused, then suddenly you start to run into tree branches and trip over anything, your body screaming to stop! Luckily, I'd met the last lady to pass me at Edinburgh Beast, she was a little French goddess and kindly offered me some water she was carrying with her. I have never been so grateful. There were more than enough water/fuelling stations along the way, with one about every three miles- so I can only put down my dehydration to poor preparation on my own part, maybe I'm not solar powered after all.
Obstacles even cropped up in the water crossings - these included over under walls and a barbed wire crawl. In any other event I would have hated this as it was so long to feel trapped under water, but the water was so refreshing I wasn't phased by it.
Finally at 15 miles I began to feel like the finish was in my grasp, many locals were gathering at the obstacles and on the bridges overhead cheering us on loudly.
Everywhere ached as I ran into Sparta for the epic finish, I didn't care though; I had passed the memory test after an easy 15 miles trying to remember my Greek picture sequence! At this point my Garmin bleeped 17 miles. I dug deep, knowing I had 5 obstacles left till the finish including the Herc hoist and a technical rig. There is no way any racer wants a burpee penalty at this point- especially not at the feet of Leonidas' statue!
The crowd was amazing, and as there was a good two minutes between the racer ahead of and behind me I felt like a 'famous' coming through. A little local boy ran joyfully next to me offering me water as I came in, it was the sweetest moment. I asked him if he was having a fun day & his face said it all.
I cleared all the final obstacles hopefully looking as good as I felt. Claire Simpson (the only marshal I knew) gave me the biggest hug when I completed the multi-rig which almost brought me to tears, there is certainly something to be said for having someone you know at the finish to share your moment.
I climbed over the final wall and made the finish line fire jump, well, more of a hop after leaving it all out there on course, but I was still able to #strikeamessner.
All in all, it was a life changing, emotionally proud experience in so many ways.
Spartan have promised to return next year so if you get the chance to sign up for this ultimate Spartan trifecta weekend then I wouldn't miss it for the world! It’s one for the bucket list! Spartans who completed the trifecta also received a special extra medal and a coin! So much bling!
Huge props to the man we know and love Thomas Blanc (and the whole team) for the best Spartan Race I've done to date and thank you Mudstacle for asking me to share my experience.